After Saturday’s 74-69 win over St. Joes, Harvard assistant coach Yanni Hufnagel tweeted, “Best win I’ve been a part of. Period.” That statement—surprising as it is coming from a coach who’s helped engineer 56 wins for the Crimson—conveyed how richly satisfying the comeback against the Hawks was.
In a game reminiscent of last year’s 24-point comeback against Brown, Harvard withstood an unreal shooting display in the first half (19 of 24 from the floor, six of nine from deep). St. Joe’s guards Carl Jones and Langston Galloway and forward CJ Aiken had their way with the Crimson defense early on. Many of the buckets were the result of good offense (it seemed like the Hawks had success with post ups and kick outs in their four-out, one-in sets that dragged Keith Wright out on the perimeter), but more than a few just had me shaking my head in disbelief (long, turnaround jumpers from Jones were particularly crushing).
But Harvard dug in and didn’t get discouraged. The hot-hand mentality, which benefitted St. Joe’s early, hurt the Hawks in the second half, and the jumpers that they settled for in the first frame finally started to draw iron (St. Joe’s went zero for eight from deep after the break).
Meanwhile, the Crimson offense went to its bread and butter. Sure, Harvard has a balanced attack, but it knows that its strength lies in the frontcourt. After Wright carried the scoring load in the first frame, Casey emerged in the second half with his best offensive stretch since the opening period against Princeton in the Ivy-“clinching” win last year. He displayed a full arsenal: back downs on the block, step backs on the perimeter, and, the decisive basket with 41 seconds left, an open three on the wing. The media has celebrated the Crimson’s unselfish approach, but when the offense sputters it isn’t always obvious to whom Harvard can turn. Casey and Wright provided an answer against the Hawks.
The win was the Crimson’s 21st straight at Lavietes. Despite the disappointment in the visitor’s section, the popular sentiment seemed to be that it wasn’t so much a bad loss as it would have been a good win. That struck me as fairly high praise for a Harvard basketball program whose history of success dates back only a couple of years. There’s no longer any shame in losing to the Crimson. At the same time, as evinced by the atmosphere at this sellout, there’s a groundswell of pride for this squad. Somehow, Amaker and his crew have lifted the shroud of apathy concerning Harvard athletics, and Lavietes has become a place where fans stand on their feet to watch the action.
For me, Saturday was the culmination of a three-day Boston basketball tour from Conte Forum to the Garden to Lavietes. It’s fair to say, I think, that Harvard basketball has become the best ticket in town.